A history of Nuggets late first round draft picks...

Stiffs everywhere are intimately familiar with the Nuggets' draft history when it comes to lottery picks. But what about all those non-lottery selections the franchise has made in the last 30 years? How did those pan out?

Without having to look it up, die-hard Nuggets fans can recite the franchise's legendary (and not so legendary) lottery history.

Drafting James Earl Ray fifth overall in 1980, passing on Mike Gminski and Andrew Toney in the process.

Trading up in 1990 to nab Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (nee Chris Jackson) third overall.

Nailing the fourth overall pick in 1990 by stealing Dikembe Mutombo, then fumbling the eighth overall pick by selecting Mark Macon over Stacey Augmon, Bison Dele (nee Brian Williams) and Terrell Brandon.

Getting the fifth and 13th overall picks right in 1992 by drafting LaPhonso Ellis and Bryant Stith, respectively.

Trading the 15th overall pick plus Rodney Rogers and Dele in 1995 to draft Antonio McDyess second overall.

Foolishly, stupidly and moronically trading the 10th overall pick together with Jalen Rose in 1996, passing on Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Jermaine O'Neal in the process, for the 23rd pick and a bag of garbage from Indiana.

Drafting Tony "El Busto" Battie fifth overall in 1997. Enough said on that one.

Doubling down on stupid in 1998 by selecting Raef LaFrentz third overall over Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Paul Pierce and some kid from Germany named Dirk Nowitzki.  

Making the worst fifth overall selection in NBA history in 2002 by drafting Nikoloz Tskitishvili, but somewhat making up for it by stealing Nene from the Knicks with the seventh overall pick and getting Marcus Camby on draft day, too.

And, of course, astutely drafting Carmelo Anthony third overall in 2003, even if the Syracuse forward (literally) fell into the Nuggets' lap that year.

But what about latter first round draft picks? What about the picks that didn't come with that bright lottery spotlight that general managers have to endure when drafting in the top 10?

Like their lottery draft history, the Nuggets' history of late first round draft pick success is a very mixed bag, one filled with more misses than hits. For starters, the Nuggets' four best late first round picks were either traded right away (like Jameer Nelson, drafted 20th overall in 2004 for the Magic, and Jarrett Jack, drafted 22nd overall in 2005 for the Blazers in a draft-day trade for Linas Kleiza) or weren't Nuggets long enough for our franchise to benefit from their best seasons (like Jalen Rose, drafted 13th overall in 1994 and traded two years later, and James Posey, drafted 18th overall in 1999 and traded three-and-a-half seasons later). The Nuggets have also benefited from having others draft for them late in the first round, such as Seattle drafting Bobby Jackson for Denver 23rd overall in 1997, Portland drafting Kleiza for Denver 27th overall in 2005 and most recently Minnesota drafting Ty Lawson for Denver 18th overall in 2009.

Other than the aforementioned players, however, the Nuggets' history of late first round draft choices has been a collection of uninspired mistakes. Rather than "steal" great prospects late in the draft as the San Antonio Spurs have done over the years (as wonderfully detailed by Denver Stiffs' resident statisticians, The Unitary Executives, over the weekend), the Nuggets have too often pissed away opportunities to round out their roster with solid late first round drafting. And with our Nuggets primed to draft 22nd overall in Thursday's draft, with a new general manager at the helm, will they finally draft an impact player that they actually keep? Will they score a foreign prospect who makes an impact in Denver two seasons from now? Or will they fumble yet another late round selection?

Here's a rundown of the Nuggets' notable late first round draft picks over the past 30 years...

1982
With the 19th pick, the Nuggets drafted Rob Williams from the University of Houston, missing out on Ricky Pierce by one spot and missing out on Paul Pressey, drafted 20th overall. Williams, who as a rookie showed up in training camp out of shape, was so beloved by then-Nuggets head coach Doug Moe that Moe labeled the rookie "a fat, little hog." After two forgettable seasons, Williams was out of the NBA for good and has since been nominated to be in the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame.

1983
With the 15th overall pick in a draft with little depth, the Nuggets selected Howard Carter from LSU one pick after the Blazers selected Clyde Drexler. Also a Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame nominee, Carter lasted as long in Doug Moe's NBA as Williams did: two forgettable seasons.

1985
With 15th overall pick for the second year in a row, the Nuggets drafted center Blair Rasmussen from the University of Oregon, proving once again that you can't coach size. It's easy in hindsight to point out that the Nuggets passed on Joe Dumars to draft Rasmussen, but no one knew that Dumars would be a future Hall of Famer. Rasmussen will have to settle for a spot in the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame.

1986
Holding a pair of late first round picks, the Nuggets drafted Mo Martin 16th and Mark Alarie 18th. In other words, the Nuggets had two chances to improve their roster and missed them both. Soon after Alarie was drafted, Scott Skiles, Mark Price and Dennis Rodman were selected.

1988
Coming off one of their best NBA seasons, the Nuggets had the third-to-last pick in the draft and took Pittsburgh's Jerome Lane 23rd overall in a relatively weak draft. Lane was an immediate fan favorite, but was out of Denver in four years and out of the NBA in five.

1989
The Nuggets again found themselves with the 15th overall selection and this time drafted Stanford's Todd Lichti, one spot behind Tim Hardaway. Even though Lichti's NBA career was cut tragically short by a horrendous car accident, he would never have been the player that Shawn Kemp turned out to be...who just happened to be drafted two selections later.

1991
In addition to drafting Mutombo and Macon, the Nuggets picked up the 18th overall selection - Kevin Brooks - in a trade with the Milwaukee Bucks that was consummated on or around draft night. Brooks was an immediate bust, but so were the others drafted around him, including Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame nominee Mark Randall who was drafted 26th overall and now catches basketballs for Rocky.

1994
Drafting 13th overall in 1994 was a non-lottery selection as the NBA had 27 teams back then. And in 1994, the Nuggets made one of their best non-lottery picks ever by selecting Michigan's Jalen Rose after Rose was passed over for Sharone Wright, Lamond Murray, Eric Montross, Carlos Rogers and Khalid Reeves. Unfortunately, the Nuggets weren't able to take advantage of Rose's best years as a pro as Denver would trade Rose in one of the worst trades in franchise history just two years later.

1995
Holding the 15th overall pick for the fourth time in 12 years, the Nuggets drafted Brent Barry - making it three white guys drafted in four tries with the 15th pick. Barry was never meant for Denver, however, as he was drafted for the Clippers in a trade that sent him, Dele and Rogers to the Clips for the second overall pick, Antonio McDyess.

1996
Perhaps the darkest hour in Denver Nuggets draft history happened in 1996. Holding the 10th overall selection, then team president Bernie Bickerstaff (whom the "Bernie Bickerstaff Lifetime Achievement Award" has been named after) determined that there were no players worth selecting after the first nine picks. So Bernie traded the pick - along with Rose and Reggie Williams - to the Pacers for the 23rd overall pick, Mark Jackson and an aging Ricky Pierce. Not only did Bernie miss out on Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojakovic, Steve Nash and Jermaine O'Neal (drafted 13th, 14th, 15th and 17th, respectively) but he added insult to injury by selecting Greece's Efthimios Rentzias at 23. It would later come out that Bernie had never seen Rentzias play live in person prior to the draft and, in fact, only yours truly saw Rentzias play live in 1996 when I watched this Greek Stiff play a few ineffective minutes off the bench against Brazil in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Amazingly, Rentzias found himself playing 35 games for the 76ers in 2002-03, the only NBA games he ever appeared in.

1997
In addition to selecting Battie fifth overall and swinging a draft day deal for Danny Fortson (selected 10th overall), the Nuggets maneuvered to have Seattle draft the University of Minnesota's Bobby Jackson 23rd overall for Denver in exchange for two second round picks (one became Rashard Lewis, but there's no way Denver would have nabbed Lewis in the second round). Jackson was a steal at 23, but was shipped to Minnesota the following season in a complicated deal that brought Chauncey Billups to Denver for the first time and cost the Nuggets their fifth overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft.

1998
After then team president Dan Issel botched the third overall pick by selecting LaFrentz, Issel drafted Nebraska's Tyronn Lue 23rd overall and immediately traded Lue plus Battie to the Lakers for Nick Van Exel, a good trade until Issel overpaid to re-sign Van Exel and Van Exel led a team revolt against Issel several years later.

1999
In one of Issel's rare good moves, he selected Xavier's James Posey 18th overall, a move dubbed a "steal" by most experts on draft night. Posey would go on to have a productive NBA career - and become an integral part of two championship teams - but he was traded out of Denver in 2002.

2000
Having mortgaged the Nuggets future thanks to an assortment of boneheaded trades, Issel had no lottery pick in 2000 and instead traded the Nuggets' 2001 first round pick in order to draft Auburn's Mamadou N'diaye 26th overall. N'diaye spent some time in Denver but never appeared in a single game, and was traded midway through the 2000-01 season along with Keon Clark and Tracy Murray to Toronto for Kevin Willis.

2002
With the draft now being overseen by Kiki Vandeweghe, Vandeweghe whiffed big time with his selection of Tskitishvili fifth overall and to this day "Skita" is regarded by most as the worst fifth overall pick in NBA history. But in addition to drafting Skita, Vandeweghe drafted Frank Williams 25th overall for the Knicks as part of the Nene/Camby for McDyess trade, a masterstroke that (almost) made up for the Skita disaster.

2004
Of all the non-lottery players drafted by the Nuggets over the past 30 years, only one has been selected to an All-Star team and that is Jameer Nelson, selected 20th overall by Denver. Of course, Nelson was drafted for the Magic in exchange for a 2005 first round pick that became...

2005
...Julius Hodge, drafted 20th overall, was so bad that he found himself in the Denver Stiffs Hall of Fame only four years later. The Nuggets would also draft Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack 22nd overall in 2005, only to trade Jack on draft day for Linas Kleiza, drafted 27th overall by Portland. Considering he was the 27th pick in the draft, Kleiza goes down in history as one of Denver's best late first round draft selections. It should be noted, however, that David Lee was drafted 30th overall in 2005, after Hodge, Jack and Kleiza.

2009
Having shed themselves of first round picks from 2006 through 2008 in an effort to clear cap space, the Nuggets management team of Mark Warkentien, Rex Chapman and Bret Bearup made a great move in 2009 to get back into the draft when Minnesota drafted North Carolina's Ty Lawson 18th overall in exchange for Denver's 2010 first round selection. If the early returns on Lawson's career are any indication, the diminutive point guard could some day become Denver's best ever late first round selection.

 

Fair or not, general managers are graded based on the draft picks and trades that are made on their watch. This Thursday night, the Nuggets' new general manager, Masai Ujiri, will make his first draft day decision on behalf of our franchise. Historically, the Nuggets have never "stolen" a star player late in the draft and they've missed out on much of the solid foreign talent that's been taken late in the drafts over the years, like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Serge Ibaka.

With his background in international scouting, Ujiri has the opportunity to change the Nuggets fortunes when it comes to the draft and it will be fascinating to see what happens on Thursday night when the 22nd overall pick comes up.

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